NEWS: Sweatshop Agreement

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Subject: sweatshop agreement: news stories
Author: Campaign for Labor Rights <>
Date: 11/8/98 9:22 PM

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* New York Times
* Associated Press
* (Portland) Oregonian


New York Times
November 5, 1998

Plan to Curtail Sweatshops Rejected by Union
by Steven Greenhouse

After more than two years of debate, a group of human rights organizations
and apparel manufacturers, including Nike, Reebok and Liz Claiborne, has
reached an agreement intended to curtail sweatshops by setting up a code of
conduct and a monitoring system for overseas factories used by American

The group that reached the agreement hopes it will reassure American
consumers that the apparel they buy is not made in sweatshops, but the
nation's leading apparel union rejected the agreement Wednesday as not going far

Members of the group said they would seek to carry out the agreement even
though the apparel union rejected it. But several members said they feared
that American consumers would feel little reassurance that apparel produced
under the agreement's guidelines was not made in sweatshops.

The Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees criticized the
accord for not requiring overseas factories to pay workers enough to meet
their basic needs and for allowing American companies to use apparel
factories in countries, including China, that repress unions.

"This agreement's not very good," said Mark Levinson, director of research
at the needletrades union. "How can you talk about eliminating sweatshops
without making a commitment to pay a living wage? And the agreement allows
companies to produce in countries that systematically deny worker rights,
and it allows them to do that without requiring them to say anything to
protect rights in those countries."

Despite the union's rejection, members of the group insisted that the accord was
a giant step forward in combating sweatshops. The four companies and five
nonprofit groups that reached the agreement say they hope dozens more companies
will sign on and comply with the agreement's requirements to
insure that apparel is made under satisfactory working conditions.

"The administration is convinced this agreement lays the foundation to
eliminate sweatshop labor, here and abroad," said Secretary of Labor Alexis
Herman. "It is workable for business and creates a credible system that will let
consumers know the garments they buy are not produced by exploited
workers. We remain committed to working with all interested parties to
insure its future success."

The pact grows out of a presidential task force, the White House Apparel
Industry Partnership, that was set up in 1996 after embarrassing revelations
that apparel produced under the Kathie Lee Gifford name was being made in
sweatshops in New York and Central America.

After the task force's 18 members remained stalemated for months, nine of
the group's more centrist members began negotiating among themselves and
finished thrashing out an agreement on Monday. This group presented the
agreement to the other members Monday night in the hope that they would
accept it.

"It's incredibly important," said Roberta Karp, general counsel of Liz
Claiborne and co-chairwoman of the task force. "It's the foundation to move
forward to make a real difference in working conditions around the world. It
requires monitoring by independent monitors as well as public reporting for the
first time ever. It's simply unparalleled."

In interviews Wednesday, officials with the apparel union said they would no
longer participate in the presidential task force if other members moved
forward with the new agreement.

"We cannot continue to participate in this effort on the basis of this
agreement," said Alan Howard, assistant to the president of the needletrades
union. "This has been offered to us on a take it or leave it basis and we can't
take it."

Companies that participate hope that by complying with the code of conduct
and monitoring system, they will be able to boast - perhaps through
advertisements or by tags on their apparel - that their products are

The nine task force members that reached the new agreement are Liz
Claiborne, Nike, Reebok, Phillips Van Heusen, Business for Social
Responsibility, the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, the National
Consumers League, the International Labor Rights Fund and the Robert F.
Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights.

Four other corporate task force members, L.L. Bean, Patagonia, Nicole Miller and
Kathie Lee Gifford, have accepted the new agreement.

"This agreement is only the beginning," President Clinton said. "We know
that sweatshop labor will not vanish overnight. While this agreement is a
historic step, we must measure our progress by how we change and improve the
lives and livelihoods of apparel workers here in the United States and
around the world. That is why I urge more companies to join this effort."

Several corporate members said that if the task force accepts the stricter
requirements sought by union leaders, that would make it harder to persuade
more companies to join the effort.

Under the agreement, factories used by American companies could not use
forced labor and could not require employees to work more than 60 hours each
week. In addition, the agreement prohibits factories from employing children
younger than 15, although employment of 14-year-olds would be allowed when the
country of manufacture allows employment at that age.

The agreement also requires employers to pay the minimum wage required by
local law or the prevailing industry wage, whichever is higher. Labor unions
have repeatedly complained that in countries like Indonesia and Vietnam, both
the minimum wage and prevailing wage are too low to support a family.

Under the accord, a new entity, the Fair Labor Association, would be set up
to oversee compliance. The new association would certify which monitors
could examine factories, and it could expel companies that do not comply
with the code. Many of the monitors would be accounting firms, but the
accord urges all monitors to work with nongovernmental groups, like human
rights groups, to get an accurate picture of conditions.

The agreement calls for companies to monitor all their factories themselves, but
in addition requires outside monitors to examine 30 percent of a company's
factories in the three years after a company agrees to comply with the code of
conduct. In subsequent years, about 10 percent of a company's factories would be
inspected annually.

Officials with the needletrades union said it was insufficient for only
one-tenth of a company's factories to be monitored each year.

"The monitoring is badly flawed," Howard said. "We don't think it's very
independent monitoring and the companies pick their monitors and the
factories to be monitored so there won't be surprise inspections."

The union's biggest criticism is the accord's failure to require that
companies pay a living wage.

Human rights groups that backed the agreement said they persuaded the
companies to agree to a Department of Labor study on the minimum and
prevailing wages in relevant countries and how those wages compare with the
amount needed to meet workers' basic needs.

"Those of us on the nongovernment organization side are continuing to fight
for higher wages in this industry," said Michael Posner, executive director
of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights. "This issue is central to our
thinking going forward. Remember, this a first step and we have a lot of
work to do to make this work."


Employers Sign Sweatshop Pact
by Verena Dobnik, Associated Press
November 5, 1998

NEW YORK (AP) - A White House task force that included Nike and Reebok and
grew out of the Kathie Lee Gifford sweatshop scandal has agreed to a pact
that protects workers at overseas factories.

Human rights groups and a union sharply criticized the agreement - which
would still allow employees as young as 14 to work 60-hour weeks, often for
less than $1 a day.

President Clinton praised the deal, calling it a "historic step toward
reducing sweatshop labor around the world."

Under the accord, American manufacturers pledge not to do business with
companies that use forced labor or require employees to work more than 60
hours a week.

Companies will prohibit hiring children younger than 15 except in countries
where 14-year-olds can work legally. Contractors will be required to pay the
minimum wage mandated by local law or the prevailing industry standard,
whichever is higher.

A watchdog group, the Fair Labor Association, will oversee compliance and
certify outside monitors to investigate factories.

Mrs. Gifford did not return several messages on Thursday seeking comment.
The White House Apparel Industry Partnership was created in 1996 after it
was discovered that Mrs. Gifford's clothing line was made in Honduran

Michael Posner, executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Human
Rights, called the monitoring "a first step in establishing accountability
that will change how the industry operates. The reality is, minimum wages
are generally not high enough."

The agreement follows "recognized worldwide standards, not American
standards," said Roberta Karp, co-chairwoman of the task force and general
counsel for Liz Claiborne, whose apparel is made in 30 countries.

Nike, Reebok, Liz Claiborne and Phillips-Van Heusen helped negotiate the
accord. Mrs. Gifford, L.L. Bean, Patagonia and Nicole Miller all have signed on.

Critics charge that wages earned by workers producing American goods in
countries like Vietnam and Indonesia are too low to support a family.

"This is a step backwards. These companies will be able to market their
products as sweatshop-free - without actually making changes to sweatshop
practices abroad," says Michael Shellenberger, spokesman for Global
Exchange, a San Francisco-based human rights group.

"How can you talk about eliminating sweatshops without making a commitment
to pay a living wage?," said Mark Levinson, chief economist for the Union of
Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees, a task force member that
dropped out in opposition to the deal.


Sweatshop pact advances

Nike is participating in the apparel industry partnership pledging to allow
independent monitors into factories and make summaries of the audits public

by Jeff Manning, The Oregonian
November 4 1998

After two years of often tough negotiating, Nike Inc. and a handful of other
U.S. companies have reached preliminary agreement on a precedent-setting
anti-sweatshop accord.

Some, but not all, members of the Apparel Industry Partnership, a group
President Clinton formed 26 months ago, unveiled the agreement Tuesday.
Member companies pledged to allow independent monitors into some factories
and make summaries of the audits public.

Clinton said in a prepared statement that the accord will "give American
consumers confidence that the clothes they buy are made under decent and
humane working conditions. Today's an historic step toward
reducing sweatshop labor around the world."

Nike Chairman Phil Knight said: "This is a historic agreement for everyone
involved - manufacturers, workers and nongovernmental organizations - all
who sought a level playing field within the global marketplace. It is a good
beginning with more work still to be completed."

The often fractious nature of the partnership's negotiating sessions
continued to Tuesday's announcement. Some charter members of the group have
thus far refused to sign onto the agreement.

The Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility, a New York-based
religious human rights group, is one of the organizations with misgivings,
particularly when it comes to wages, monitoring and public accountability.

"The significant issue for us is whether it goes far enough," said David
Schilling of the Interfaith Center. Schilling said his group will make a
final decision today on whether to participate.

Schilling and most of the other nonprofit-sector members of the partnership
met for more than two hours Tuesday afternoon in New York. Members
supportive of the accord were trying to persuade the Interfaith Center and
the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees to come on
board, Schilling and two other sources said.

UNITE officials were unavailable for comment.

Private-sector members of the partnership include Nike, Reebok International
Ltd., Liz Claiborne, Phillips Van Heusen, Patagonia, L.L. Bean and Tweeds.
Other nonprofit members are the International Labor Rights Funds, the
Lawyers Committee for Human Rights and the National Consumers League.

Highlights of the accord included:

* A requirement that member companies undertake comprehensive internal
factory monitoring as well as submit "a significant number" of factories to
external independent monitoring.

* Creation of a new association to be jointly controlled by the companies
and labor and human rights groups that will oversee workplace practices,
monitoring and company compliance. This new organization will select the
groups to do the external monitoring.

* Regular public reports on the performance of individual companies in
complying with labor standards.

Wages were a consistent sticking point between the two camps. The
partnership agreement calls for the U.S. Department of Labor to launch a
study of factory salaries, poverty levels and purchasing power in apparel
and footwear producing countries.

Beyond that, the agreement calls only for the new association to review the
data and "consider their implications" on factory wages and their code of

Nike, a company at the flashpoint of the Asian sweatshop controversy, was
often at the center of the heated negotiations inside the partnership. At
least one member said that the new agreement would not have happened without
the company and its Washington, D.C., lobbyist Brad Figel.

"There were times when Nike and Brad really held this together," said Kevin
Sweeney, director of communications for Patagonia, a Ventura, Calif.,
outdoor apparel company.

[See analysis in Part 1 and documents in Part 2 of this alert.]


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Subject: sweatshop agreement: news stories

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